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Fortunate sons

Dwight Eisenhower and Prescott Bush

Here’s a fascinating portrait of how the ruling class in Greenwich, CT — the holy citadel of America’s traditional WASP pseudo-aristocracy — learned to love Donald Trump:

The story of Trump’s rise is often told as a hostile takeover. In truth, it is something closer to a joint venture, in which members of America’s élite accepted the terms of Trumpism as the price of power. Long before anyone imagined that Trump might become President, a generation of unwitting patrons paved the way for him. From Greenwich and places like it, they launched a set of financial, philanthropic, and political projects that have changed American ideas about government, taxes, and the legitimacy of the liberal state.

The TL;DR version is: between the end of the first Gilded Age and the rise of the New Right, Yankee plutocrats had some sense of reserve about how much surplus value it was OK to pry away from workers’ wages, and how acceptable it was to invest that booty in 36,000 sq. ft. houses, 250-foot yachts, $17,000 Rolex watches, etc. (Although the article doesn’t really explore the historical roots of this reserve, it was surely in part a product of a certain salubrious fear of the ghosts of Cotton Mather and Karl Marx).

For example:

One of America’s most powerful capitalists, Reginald Jones, who became G.E.’s chairman and C.E.O. in 1972, lived in a modest brick Colonial in Greenwich. His daughter, Grace Vineyard, told me, “He asked my mom, ‘Do you want anything more?’ And she said, ‘Why would we want anything more?’ ” Leo Hindery worked for Jones as a junior executive. “I earned fifteen thousand six hundred dollars when I got out of Stanford, and Reg’s salary was two hundred thousand dollars,” [ed. note: this is about $1.2 million in 2020 dollars so it’s not like GE in the 1970s was a syndicalist collective or anything] Hindery said. “G.E. was the preëminent company in America, and the C.E.O. was making twelve or thirteen times what I did.” According to the Economic Policy Institute, that ratio wasn’t unusual: in 1965, the C.E.O. of an average large public company earned about twenty times as much as a front-line worker. Today, that figure is two hundred and seventy-eight times.

That’s all gone now. It’s all a game of Who Wants to Be a Billionaire, and if voting for a racist pussy-grabbing nouveau riche vulgarian is just the latest price they have to pay to continue to worship at the altar of Hayek, Rand, Reagan, and Mammon, they are all too eager to pay it.

The article also contains this exciting nugget of information:

“They decided regulation was mostly to blame,” the historian Rick Perlstein writes in his forthcoming book, “Reaganland.” In Perlstein’s telling, “the denizens of America’s better boardrooms, who had once comported themselves with such ideological gentility, began behaving like the legendary Jacobins of the French Revolution. They declared war without compromise.”

I do love me some Rick Perlstein, and I pray to all relevant deities that he’s around long enough to one day write “Trumpland,” too.

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